Over the weekend, the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com ran a story, reported by Sam Wood and Stephanie Farr, that details the horrors of a half-mile gorge known as El Campamento in Kensington. The embankment is home to 75 to 125 addicts at any given time and is, as the article states, "a hidden hellscape" just four miles outside of Center City.
The area is known as the East Coast's largest heroin market, according to the DEA and finding a way to clean it up and get help for the people who live there is no easy task. Any solution is complicated by political, economic and social factors, which Farr and Wood detail in their piece.
Readers responded on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit and in the comments section on Philly.com. As of this writing, more than 84,000 people have read about El Campamento.
Some readers shared ideas for how to solve the opioid addiction crisis.
Facebook commenter Kristen Gwynne shared this idea: "Philadelphia needs a supervised injection facility. Heroin addicts will not disappear when the tracks are clean. They'll overdose alone elsewhere. Calling addiction stronger than a 'bond between a woman and child' is sexist and stupid. Why don't you look at why these people are getting high? Ask them what would help them stay safe and, if they're ready, get treatment. Fear mongering like this doesn't offer viable solutions and will divert resources (millions of dollars apparently) that could be used for harm reduction that actually helps PEOPLE, to resources that help sell CONDOS. Get it together."
Another idea came from Aaron Hayson on Facebook:
Facebook commenter Mary Farricker wrote, "I believe any drug testing done must be matched by easy access to detox and rehabilitation programs. Its an addiction - if people could stop by themselves they would have. I find it interesting that so many Congressman who smoke cigarettes don't feel empathy toward people addicted to stronger drugs."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of readers wondered who should take responsibility for Philadelphia's heroin problems. Many readers blamed elected officials for allowing the issue to grow into the epidemic it is today.
Facebook commenter James Kane wrote, "If Kenny [sic] wants the area cleaned up he should do it. He is so anti business he wont stop until he forces every taxpaying employer out of the city."
Others, like commenter Veritas, blame the medical community. He writes, "This epidemic lies at the feet of pharmaceutical companies. And medical doctors who prescribe opioids like candy." Our readers also feel strongly about Philly's rapidly changing neighborhoods and the role those changes play in the day-to-day lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Wow. Perhaps one reason this problem is no longer hidden is the surrounding neighborhood is being gentrified. https://t.co/73UCnzKIDt
— Edward M. Epstein (@epsteined) February 20, 2017
Reader Robert Ashford notes on Facebook that journalists should show compassion when talking about those impacted by addiction.
He writes, "Perhaps beginning to cover the epidemic with a dose of empathy and respect for human life is a better approach, staff writers. Using the label of addict as often as you have here is just lazy journalism. Learn the impact your words have. You have a role to play in saving lives in this current crisis as well. Currently, you are failing."